Steve Chapman
Back when Ronald Reagan was president, conservatives relished skewering liberals who, in approaching international affairs, "always blame America first." A generation later, with Barack Obama in the White House, they are proving they can indict the U.S.A. with the best of them.

Earlier this month, the administration announced a new effort to "end discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons" around the world. President Obama issued an executive memo outlining the campaign, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made a speech on International Human Rights Day arguing that "gay rights are human rights, and human rights are gay rights."

This didn't get much attention, if only because the commitment is mostly rhetorical. It doesn't mean the United States will invade a country that denies equal treatment to gays, or impose economic sanctions, or cut off aid, or refuse to work together on other matters.

It just means our diplomats will occasionally raise the issue, deliver a lecture once in a while and note such abuses in the State Department's annual report on human rights in the world. Not a big deal, really.

Except, that is, to religious conservatives who regard any charitable words about gays as the death knell of Western civilization.

Rick Perry said the decision proved Obama is "out of touch with America's values." Rick Santorum said Obama was promoting "gay lifestyles." The conservative Liberty Counsel Action said Obama was exporting our "immorality to other nations that are trying to adhere to traditional principles relative to human sexuality."

As it happens, they're mistaken. Gay rights are America's values, according to America's people.

More Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage than oppose it. A poll this year found that 73 percent favor a ban on job discrimination against gays. A similar majority supports letting gays serve openly in the military.

But the administration is not demanding that other countries legalize gay marriage, induct gay soldiers or give out awards for the most outrageous float in the Gay Pride parade. The chief goals are less ambitious: ending violence against people because of their sexual orientation and repealing laws that make homosexuality a crime.

It may be hard to believe, but some 76 countries outlaw gay sexual relations. At least five -- Iran, Mauritania, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen -- make it punishable by death. In September, an Iranian human rights group reported that three men had been hanged for homosexual sodomy.

Steve Chapman

Steve Chapman is a columnist and editorial writer for the Chicago Tribune.

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